State Capital Bureau
JEFFERSON CITY - Top businessmen and famous baseball greats rallied at the statehouse Tuesday to pinch-hit a bill that would allocate $370 million for a new ballpark in St. Louis by 2005.
"St. Louis baseball has a spirit by which people have come to know the Cardinals," said Cardinal Hall of Famer Lou Brock. "This new stadium is a vital part of it. Let's let the future in."
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jim Foley, D-St. Louis County, would fund construction costs by putting sales tax from baseball ticket sales into stadium development debts. That would mean an estimated loss for the state of $5.4 million in yearly tax revenue.
Bill supporters said lost state tax revenues would be offset by increased business at the new "Ball Park Village" with 400 residential units, 2000 spaces for underground parking, a city aquarium, and a baseball museum. The entire development is expected to generate 3,400 new jobs and $1 billion in its first year.
"We need to revitalize downtown," Foley said. "This stadium is the anchor for revitalization."
Bob Lewis, president of Development Strategies Inc., the company in charge of economic impact for the stadium, said the bill would have "net positive effects in the state treasury and economic growth."
"This isn't going to be something that simply moves the chairs around on the Titanic," said Lewis.
The Cardinals organization promised to provide 25 acres of land and $100 million in up front funding for the project. The Cardinals also would take on 40 percent of stadium construction costs.
Taxes, which now go into state coffers, would be taken from ticket sales, to pay for the stadium construction cost. The sales tax plan will begin in 2005.
Longtime Cardinal announcer Jack Buck, labor union and business representatives from across Missouri were among those supporting the proposal. The St. Louis School Board, St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition, hotel-chain owner Charles Drury and Kim Tucci, owner of the Pasta House Co. testified at the House committee hearing Tuesday.
Both St. Louis County and Illinois have made overtures to lure the Cardinals out of downtown St. Louis City, but bill proponents said there is minimal danger of the Cardinals leaving the city. The city's right to the 2006 All-Star game hinges on the team having a new stadium. The last time an All-Star game was held in Missouri was 1966. The event is expected to gross $100 million.
"Delay equals cost," said Cardinals president Mark Lamping.
The stadium would reduce upper deck seats by 30 percent and double the number of bleacher seats. It would allow better accessibility for seniors and those with disabilities. Additionally, more room would be made available on each concourse for vendors.
Rep. Jim Murphy, R-St. Louis County, the only opponent of the bill said he wanted another hearing because opponents weren't given enough time to make their case.
"I feel like the last man in a parade after all the donkeys have gone ahead of me," Murphy said.
A hearing for bill opponents could happen in late March.
Proponents of the tax-funded stadium argued that only five stadiums in the nation are older than Busch; one in Boston, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and two in New York. All were built strictly for baseball.